The anonymous student confession page, UCD Confessions, has grown in infamy over the past year, and Caroline Kelly investigates what is so engrossing about other people's secrets.
Love them or loathe them, the student “confession” pages on social media have fast become an integral part of student culture. The accounts host outrageous and endearing content in equal measure. From confessions of sexual tension between glances in James Joyce library to the stories of one-night stands with lab demonstrators; from bulletins hoping to reconcile the missed opportunity of getting a girl's number to borderline sexual harassment of prominent members of the university community; and from the relatable struggles of college life to the expressed problems with college administration.
The accounts host outrageous and endearing content in equal measure. From confessions of sexual tension between glances in James Joyce library to the stories of one-night stands with lab demonstrators.
One such page is Instagram’s UCD Confessions. With over 15,000 followers, UCD Confessions is a prime outlet for students to air their opinions, experiences, and wishes anonymously. The platform allows students to stay anonymous by using Google forms to accept their submissions, which the page moderators review before posting to the page. The University Observer recently spoke to the moderator of the Instagram account, who goes by 'Confessions Guy', about the account's enduring popularity and the temptation of anonymity for 'confessors'.
"Anonymity feels safe as it allows people to fully express themselves in a way that they could fear otherwise."
So, what is the appeal of posting anonymous confessions? "Anonymity feels safe as it allows people to fully express themselves in a way that they could fear otherwise," Confessions Guy says. The anxiety of putting a name to action is then eclipsed by a rare kind of catharsis matched by the comfort of privacy. "You could be featured in a confession that's read by the majority of the university; it's a crazy fun feeling having that much main character energy," Confessions Guy adds.
Due to the anonymous nature of the pages, there is no shortage of opposing views. Once the account becomes one of slagging, a possible slippery slope looms. Probably the most common was the fact that submissions are anonymous, to which a third-year student (who chose to remain anonymous) suggested "anonymity provides a free reign for cyberbullies and abusers to attack. It is egregious, to be completely honest." Unfortunately, where anonymity provides a safe haven, it also fosters an environment of antipathy if left unattended.
However, Confessions Guy acts as moderator and carries the power to accept or deny all submissions. The page moderator reviews all content before posting to Instagram. According to Confessions Guy, the page gets over 150 confessions every day, with only ten chosen. Thorny questions of censorship and free speech aside, such heavy moderation should keep the potential for harmful and triggering confessions at bay. Confessions Guy believes UCD Confessions centres on relatability, entertainment and occasional advice. With the mass following and influx of submissions, UCD Confessions appeals to students and succeeds in doing so.
Then, how can we trace this appeal? Indeed, anonymity acts as a safety net, granting the comfort of separating yourself from putting a face to the taboo. However, the appeal of confession pages do not begin and end at the campus gate—they may be deeply rooted in a national psyche of shame stimulated by a legacy of religion (e.g. Catholic guilt) in Irish society. Confessions Guy says the majority of confessions comprise of "thirsty confessions about someone they like, funny stories from nights out, random stories about people having sex or hearing people have sex around campus." The Church's method of pardoning is through confession and penance, which fosters an environment of guilt and indignity. A second anonymous student believes that “we like to hide behind our actions, especially our sexual escapades. Just look at Normal People by Sally Rooney, for instance, which centres on a relationship rooted in shame. Maybe it isn’t ‘Catholic’ guilt as we commonly know it, but perhaps a nod to the other definition of ‘catholic’: meaning universal.” Even still, the majority of submissions to UCD confessions are not for the sole sake of reconciliation. It is, instead, that the culture of shame does not influence an attraction towards anonymity. Confessions Guy offers that the account "is the exact opposite of the shame and guilt culture that used to exist, [which] makes it so appealing."
The majority of confessions comprise of "thirsty confessions about someone they like, funny stories from nights out, random stories about people having sex or hearing people have sex around campus."
Nevertheless, there is no shortage of accepting confessions; even recently, one confessor responded to a previous post which "[warned] people not to get frisky in public spaces because people can see us." They also stated, "that's like 90% of what makes it so exciting. Knowing others can see makes it more exciting, not less." If anything, confessions offer inexplicable satisfaction in their frivolity, absurdity, and intimacy. Though we may not always know the confessor, reading their admission can give us a sense of connection.
Becoming a confessor offers relief; with the stress of coursework, compounded by the anxiety of our formative years, confession pages allow students to express themselves, voice opinions and seek help for problems in ways they feel they are otherwise unable to do.
The desire for connection is a constant in our lives. With the anonymity that UCD Confessions provides, students have flocked to platforms where they can discover—and share—revelations as thrillingly public as they are painfully intimate. Becoming a confessor offers relief; with the stress of coursework, compounded by the anxiety of our formative years, confession pages allow students to express themselves, voice opinions and seek help for problems in ways they feel they are otherwise unable to do. It offers an escape from the real world. "It's always fun to read the page and hear what crazy things other people are up to," says Confessions Guy, "helps keep college life fun!"